Becoming a better Photographer

I was sent a link to an article from a photography friend – How to Become a Photographer. I enjoyed this post, particularly this point:

Photograph the way you like it. Don’t believe in anything but your taste, you are life and it’s life that chooses…You are the only criterion.

Everyday I see things that amaze me, and I want to take photos of these things because they interest me. I need to develop my own style, one from within my self that is a reflection of me. This is hard to do when you are looking to impress other people with your photos.

My Favourite points

The article is great and contains other suggestions, below are my favourite points:

  • Don’t force the photos
  • Get away from familiarity and move towards the unknown
  • Print your photos and post them on the wall, put the ones that you like the best higher on the wall

I think the last point is a powerful as well. Posting your photos on wall and constantly changing the order to meet your taste is a form of self reflection.

Self reflection is very powerful.

Picture at the top of the post

July 11, 2015 – Update. I decided that I should add a photo to this post. My favourite shots are where human and nature intersect. Sometime we leave a small footprint on a mountain side. Sometime the humans are in control, but over time nature always takes over and I love that.

Odd jobs at Panya

Hand made Bougainville Bongophone

Panya has been a great learning environment because of the variety. Along with all that I have learned, I have also discovered that I enjoy working with wood. After watching the movie Coconut Revolution, Sam and I got the crazy idea to build and Bougainville Bongophone. It sounds complex, but it isn’t. All you need is some bamboo. You cut everyone to a different length and you get a great (and kind cartoony) sound. Sam and I worked on this project for three days, mostly cutting and chiseling. This is the parts that I enjoyed, I now want to make a Cajon when I get back home. We learned a tough lesson though, when trying to make something out of bamboo, make sure it is dried (yellow not green). When it dries, it tends to crack, which is what happened to us, and as such, our instrument no longer works.

you hit this side with some flip flops to make the noise

If one remember from a few posts ago, we got the idea of making a tree nursery, which required us to level some land…by hand. Leveling by hand took some time (and energy), but it was good.

Kelly and Sam discussing where we should shave down to make the site level

Tanya and Sam moving sand and gravel


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After that we had to move 6m3 of gravel and sand (once again by hand). The piles of material were all placed around the leveled area evenly. The next step was to make a well in the middle of the pile.

Some of the piles, ready for cement and water

Smoothing (you can use bamboo or pvc piping)

In the well cement and water was mixed with the surrounding material to make a mix and then we spread the mix out evenly. You repeat this a few more times and you have a super easy flat surface. This mix was ultra wet so it would self level, and the goal was to make all with a piece of bamboo (that didn’t work out for us). In the end the concrete dried, and although it isn’t super posh, it is pretty nice (considering it was done in 2 hours with 7 people that have never done it before). The next step is to put up wall and a roof and we got ourselves a weed free nursery.

Kelly working on some finishing

Kelly working on some finishing

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First of four levels that will makes up the walls

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Trip to Pae, unaware of the demise of Dam (the dog)

On a less possitive note, one of the dogs dies while we were on holiday. Panya being permaculture, we thought the best way to remember Dam (the dead dog) was to put her into a 18 day compost pile. There is a video of this happening.[youtube=]

One of the most important things I learned at Panya was how easy it is to do things. Things I always thought a professional needed to do, one can do oneself. Just do it. You want a nursery, build it; you want a musical instrument, build it; you want hoot water, build a solar water heater, you want a solar bread oven, build it.

Posted from Ban Pao, Chiang Mai, Thailand
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Natural Building Internship at Panya

The last month at Panya has been spent participating in a Natural Building Internship.  I went into it with a bit of trepidation, having never build or to have wanted to build anything in my life (I don’t even assemble Ikea stuff), and Kelly was intrigued and wondering how natural building could actually work.  The project was to redesign and rebuild the Sala which is the community space where we eat and relax.

What the sala looked like before we started and now

We started with building a proper office where people could set up laptops and which will house the hundreds of books available (I helped make the bookshelves).  We use mud bricks that are made in the dry season.  They are made of a mix of clay, sand, and rice husks.  The we use a fresh mud mix of the same materials as the mortar.  For this mud mix we dug a huge hole in the ground and every day about 5 people get to stomp around in the mud adding clay and rice husks to get the right consistency.  It amazing how fast walls come together, and what’s great is you can shave down the bricks easily so you can make all kinds of interesting shapes.

We also built some arched walls, columns, benches, and stairs.  There is still lots of finishing work to be done.  I really enjoyed doing things like plastering the walls and painting (we use paint made from water, tapioca flour, and natural color), but when it comes to doing things like taking out the support beams without the roof collapsing I tried to stay far away.  A great learning experience overall!

Posted from Ban Pao, Chiang Mai, Thailand
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Banana Circle

A Banana Bunch

A banana circle is a great way to grow bananas, or any other tree/herb (bananas are actually a herb) that require a lot of water. So if you don’t like bananas, you could plant papaya or willow (which is great for mulch). At the PDC we learnt how to make one and while working at a farm here on Penang, another one was being constructed, so I took some pictures.

First of all, why would someone want a banana circle? There are many benefits, this is a great way to get rid of kitchen scraps or other organic wastes. In the tropics, it is amazing how fast organic material can break down here. That organic matter will be then utilized by the bananas. Typically there are banana clumps of three or four. In banana clumps, you have to mulch each clump, but with a banana circle you can essentially cut you mulching work in half (a banana circle will have 7 or 8 bananas).

The way the banana circle is designed will cause the organic matter to be leached into the soil and not across the soil (as with clumps). In clumps you may have too many banana plants and as a result your bananas will be small and spread across to many banana plants, thereby creating more work for you.

A banana circle creates edge, edge is important, ask a forester where the greatest amount of diversity of plants are in a forest, and they will tell you it is on the side of the road right of way, near a stream bank or near the shore of a lake. All of these places have edge and edge create a more diverse site which can support a greater amount of diversity. The same is with a banana circle, and as such, you can grow more then just bananas.

Start by digging a hole

The first step is to dig a hole (~2m in diameter and ~1m deep). In the end the hole should look like a mini crater, the hole should be fairly concave and the sides shouldn’t be too steep.

About 2m wide and about 1m deep

The next step is to pull the dirt around the edge of the hole and make a brim or a mound around the hole.

This is a banana cutting

Now it is time to plant. Plant what you want to grow there, whether it is a banana, papaya, willow or something else.

Plant the banana in the ground, that grass looking thing to the right of the banana is lemon grass

This is where permaculture really shines. Now plant some other species, and really you can plant anything you can think of. Near the inside of the hole it will be wetter, this is where you plant something that likes the water, like taro, yam, or ginger. On the crest (where you planted the banana), plant some sweet potato and some lemon grass. Near the bottom of the slope plant some beans (which will climb up the banana trees). To add an extra benefit, place a grate in the middle of the circle and have a shower in the middle of the banana circle and all grey water from the shower will be captured and used for banana growth.

Cover the bare ground with mulch and throw anything into the middle, if you look closely you can see some sweet potato, and there is some ginger planted on the inside of the circle as well.

With the use of a banana circle, there is no need to make compost (which is a lot of work), and there is no need to burn any organic matter. It is unfortunate here, so many people will rake up leaves, twigs, kitchen waste and coconut husks into a pile an burn it. Why would someone do this when they can use this great organic matter to make food? There just isn’t any reason why someone should burn waste in the tropics (or temperate regions for that matter).

Posted from Bayan Lepas, Penang, Malaysia
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Divine Nectar

Over the last weekend, Tanya and I went to a small village on the boarder of Kerala in the Western Ghats (near Coorg). There is a small village there that is starting to produce a biodynamic farm producing aromatic crops for essential oils. The activities ranged from getting to the village to making compost. This is how to make Amret Pany (Divine Nectar), an organic seed bank and soil that is packed full of great micro-organisms.

All the seeds (will the future seedbank)

This divine nectar is used to introduce micro-organisms into the soil which will increase the quality of the soil. A seedbank is important thing to have (as most farmers will tell you). A seedbank will reduce dependency on corporations to provide your seeds. Over time and a process of selection, a seedbank will have plants that have been selected for that climate and area and is a great resource. Micro-organisms in the soil are very important, if you think of the farm (or forest) as one big organism, the small part of the farm/forest/ecosystem (like the plants, insects, soil) are like the organs. If you remove some of the organs, the organism doesn’t do to well.This is the main arguement against using chemicals to fertilize and control pests, the are simplified methods that use one or two components to fix a problem. It is like take a multivitiam to fix a problem in the body, although it may work the best option is to eat right in the first place. Continue reading

Posted from Madikeri, Karnataka, India
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Biodynamic Compost

Over the last weekend, Tanya and I went to a small village on the boarder of Kerala in the Western Ghats (near Coorg). There is a small village there that is starting to produce a biodynamic farm producing aromatic crops for essential oils. The activities ranged from getting to the village to making compost. Here is how you make biodynamic compost.

You need a bunch of mulch: sticks (to provide air flow), dry leafy matter, green matter, cow dung, rock phosphate, lime powder, and some plant extracts.

Tanya Gathering Leaves

We went to collect what we could locally, and everyone helped out, it was great to see the villagers (and westerners) all working as a team. Raking dried bamboo leaves, chopping fresh green leaves and picking sticks, everyone helped out. With the piles collected we could start the compost. Continue reading

Posted from Madikeri, Karnataka, India
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Biodynamic Times

Over the last weekend, Tanya and I went to a small village on the boarder of Kerala in the Western Ghats (near Coorg). There is a small village there that is starting to produce a biodynamic farm producing aromatic crops for essential oils. The activities ranged from getting to the village to making compost. Here is the story of how the trip went.

Early morning roads (notice the Aum on the left side of the windshield)

I thought the alarm clock was set for 3:43am, however I mixed up the am and the pm. There was knocking at our door at 4:15. It was Kristen, a nice person who loves to help people, woke us up. Our ride was supposed to come at 4:30, which isn’t a lot time to get ready, especially when there is only one bathroom in the house. Our ride was late however, so we were rushed, and then we waited, for over an hour. We are picked up by a Tata Sumo, a diesel powered SUV, although there is enough to seat 8, you often 15 or more jammed into these things. There are no seat belts, and on the windshield OM is painted blocking the view of the passenger. Continue reading

Posted from Madikeri, Karnataka, India
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Put the lime in the Cocconut

A line of coconuts, ready to cut open and drank

In India there are these carts in which coconuts are stacked. Usually around these stands are people sucking the coconut juice out of the coconut with a straw. It looks very tasty and interesting. Today we decided to find out what exactly a coconut drink was like.

We went up to the stand and asked for one (Rs15), the guy at the stand picks one up, spins the coconut around so that it is positioned perfectly in his hand and then with a curved knife, he swiftly chops off the top of the coconut.

With great skill, he opens the coconut with a machete[/caption]

He does it very quickly (I was only able to get one photo of him doing it). Then you put a straw in it and start drinking.

This is your cup

You would think it would taste delicious, and exotic. But you will be surprised that it tastes like salty water. It wasn’t that tasty, and I’m not sure why they are so popular here. Maybe they are really good at replenishing your electrolytes (palm trees are very tolerant of salt water maybe because they store it in their fruit). Maybe if we tried a different type of coconut we will have better luck.

When you are in a different country you have to try new things and we did. Sometimes you find real gems (like fish tacos) other times you find things like this.


Although I wasn’t a huge fan when I first drank this stuff, it is actually pretty good after you have done something physical activity. Kind of like a natural Gatorade, I cam to love this stuff after the yoga practice, a perfect way to cool down in the 30 degree weather. Another note, it is pretty good for hangovers as well.


We have found another Cafe Coffee Day. The last one was just a random shop on the side of the highway, this one is in in the trendy part Mysore, the shopping district, where you can get designer clothes (United colors of Benetton, Pepe Jeans, Levis Store ect). Even the Cafe Coffee day is trendy, this three story coffee shop on the corner is something you would expect on Robson Street. Tanya’s Cafe Frappe is delicious and disapearing quickly (thanks to my help).

So why are we in Mysore?? That is a valid question, after we rode 60-some Km ride south of here Tanyas leg started to get tingly and hot. About 10 days ago Tanya notice some kind of bite on her leg, and it was getting better. When we got to Gundlapet her leg started to act up. We rode back to Mysore. The same road, but much busier. Traffic doesn’t really start to move until about 9am. The closer you are to city the busy the traffic. The ride back to Mysore was much busier and more trying on the patients.

We found a nice clean hotel downtown for a price that was 1/5th of the price we stayed before. As such we were giddy, only spending 1/4 of our daily budget on accomodation, we felt relief. We went to a doctor recommended to us by the person who runs the guesthouse we previously stayed at, and for Rs150 he will take a look at one’s ailments. He didn’t seem too concerned and said it was a common problem, though Tanya felt he didn’t really  understand what the problem was and was more interested in asking us questions about Canada’s medical system, he wrote out a prescription for a painkiller (which if the doctor would have listened, there wasn’t really any pain involved) and some vitamins. I think we will go get a second opinion.

A second opinion is what we got (the next day), we went to a hosptial and the intake physician sent us to a skin clinic to see a dermatologist. The doctor there said that there is an infection in the leg hair follicles (due to shaving legs with some open bites and some scrathes on her legs) and as such, provided an entry point for some bacteria. Now Tanya has some anti-botics and we both hope that is the end to the leg problems. There is a lesson here, and it is always to good to get a second opinion if thnings don’t seem right.

We also met a two girls from Holand. They are cycling for three weeks in India. One knocked on our hotel door, after she saw our bikes in the hotel garage, she had to find us. Good thing, we exchanged stories and experiences of cycling in India. It is always great to meet other cyclists on the road, we will always go out of our way to chat with other cyclists. Tomorrow is Sunday and would be a perfect day for us to leave Mysore except for the lesson we learnt a month and a half ago (which is, you don’t cycle on Sundays, everyone has the day off and the roads are congested and very hectic). As such we will spend another day in Mysore, with our cheap accommodation and a Cafe Coffee Day around the corner, we are happy to spend another day here.

Posted from Mysore, Karnataka, India
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I starting a new series of posts, they will be called tips. This series will be here to help other cycle tourists on their travels, but they may also help other travelers, backpackers, campers or interested readers.

After about two weeks of actual cycling in India, I have found a really easy way to find out how to get to your final destination. India’s road systems are still being developed, there are a few national highways which divide the country. These roads have great signs, these roads also have a lot of traffic and we have a general rule to avoid national highways at all costs. After national highways, there are secondary highways, which sometime are more like the national highways (nice smooth pavement, excellent signage and at times busy) however most of the time they have sections that need some pavement, all the signs are in some language that has different characters and are never busy. After this, there are roads called tracks, which are very bad (terrible pavement and no signage), but very quiet.

When moving through rural India it is hard to find someone how can understand English, it is also hard to find someone who can understand and English speaking tourist saying the name of next town. Syllable emphasis is extremely important here and English doesn’t really seem to care about emphasis. After a few difficult weeks, I have found the trick. It involves a notepad and a keen English speaking local (you can usually find one of these types of people a day). You explaing the route you want to take, making sure to point on the map so that they fully understand, and politely ask them to right down the route  in their native language. Next you put this pad of paper next to your map on your handlebar bag and start riding. When you come to an intersection, you move close to a local and say “which way to ________,”W hen they look at you funny, point at your pad of paper. Instantly, they say the town you are trying to get to, and the rest of your route, and then they point in the direction that need to go.

This system works like a charm, it is truly amazing how well this works. I was thinking of other ways to do this. The only thing I could come up with is to have an English map and a local language map side by side, or a list of all the English spelling of the towns and the local language spelling of the towns. One of the neat (and frusterating) things about southern India is diversity of languages. Each state has its own offical language (there are 5 states) plus a number of local languages to complicate things further.

One of the most useful things I have brought with me this trip has been a notepad and a pen, which I also recomend one brings with themselves everywhere they go.

Posted from Maharashtra, India
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